NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 17, 2012

The way football used to be played

As I See It
Robert 'Boots' Chouinard

---- — During my high school years, prep school football was very big. There was a long list of prep schools throughout New England from which high school players could choose. They would go for one year, oftentimes two years, before college. The additional years of playing put them in good stead with perspective colleges. The prep schools prepared the students to have better study skills. Prep schools picked up any potential player during these times, which gave them stronger teams.

Due to the Depression and prep schools offering scholarships, prep schools were an attractive alternative to attending college after high school. Some athletes liked the lifestyle so much they stayed as long as they could and would even attend another prep school after graduation. Some players would change their names in order to continue to play. These players came to be known as “tramp players.”

I feel fortunate that I was able to attend a prep school for at least one year; the experience helped me a lot. At the commencement of WWII, prep schools could no longer offer scholarship; the cost became too much for most students. As a result, colleges began what they referred to as the “red shirt” program. They gave a player the option to attend five years of college. The first year they would not be able to play varsity football. The incentive gave the colleges a player with five years in their football program.

The recruiting that colleges did in those days was not anything like today. Sure colleges tried to entice good players but not indulge them as they now do. Today coaches camp on players’ doorsteps to talk with both potential players and their parents. Even the alumni get into the recruiting act. With the royal incentives and special treatment, it must be very difficult for a good athlete to make their selection. As far as I am concerned, recruiting has gone too far, too much pressure on a player.

Back in the old days, the football was more rounded. It was fatter in the middle, which made it a little more difficult for passers. There wasn’t that much passing; the game was mostly running. Kicking the ball was very important; they could punt it more effectively because of its being fatter. Drop kicking was also a typical play; all teams had at least one player who could drop kick. Adding to the interest of drop kicking was the use of the play close to the goal line. They would fake a run and someone would drop kick for a field goal. Extra-point attempts were mostly done with drop kicks.

I hope people haven’t forgotten Doug Flutie, who contributed to putting Boston College on the map. He was a spunky little quarterback who went on to play professional football. In his last season in the pros he delighted everyone by drop kicking for a point after. Even though the football was narrow, he accomplished the old style of drop kicking.

Kids would learn early how to punt the ball. They practiced punting as well as drop kicking. I admire the old-time greats who could do it all — they were so versatile. They could run, pass and kick a ball and still play a heck of a game on defense. There were no specialists then, the backs did it all. A strategy they used a lot was a quick kick. You hardly see it today. They would catch a team by surprise and punt the ball way down the field. With a good defense they would try to keep the opponent there.

Football today has gotten too big for my money. There is far too much hype for me. I remember as a kid listening to a college games on the radio. On Saturday afternoons, I’d listen to Bill Stern announce the game; he did the job so well, I could picture the game in my mind. I don’t appreciate all the commentaries today; I just want to watch the game. With the instant replays, who needs two announcers reviewing what you have already seen? In my opinion, it’s not necessary.

In professional football the game is played with specialists, making the game very exciting! The quarterbacking, as well as the receiving, in each game is outstanding. Wearing gloves and possibly using a stick’em on them, is a benefit in today’s game. Also the ball is now slimmer; the passer can get their hand around the ball better, resulting in throwing the ball farther and more accurately. Passing the ball is a big part of the game today. The slimmer ball has made centering for long snaps easier as well.

I’m not so fond of big college football. They have great players who give you a good game, but I believe they’ve become football factories. Smaller colleges are unable to recruit these big players. Big colleges have football year round, with so many bowl games their season doesn’t end until mid-January at times. Before you know it, it’s already spring football. Out of season and throughout the entire football season, the players are in training rooms. There is not much of a chance to play anything else — forget playing two college sports like they did in the ’40s.

Picking a college game to watch on a Saturday, I usually opt for a small college game. I believe these players are more amateurs, being both student and player. They offer good football without having to crank out specialist players like the larger colleges. They manage to get great coaches and perform some surprising plays. Periodically, I get to watch the University of New Hampshire play. To me, that’s good football!

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Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.